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February 24, 2021

5 Success Factors in Change Management Efforts

As a business leader or consultant, you’ll likely be involved in a number of game-changing, broad-scale initiatives — such as a sales organization restructuring, a partner program redesign, or a company-wide ERP roll-out. These efforts share some common characteristics: massive organizational change across multiple groups, redefinition of key business processes, significant resource requirements, and high executive visibility.

We call these kinds of large initiatives change management or business transformation efforts, and I'll outline some of the key elements required for success.

A set of make-or-break success factors can be easy to underestimate or overlook. While these factors may seem like basics, it’s surprising how often they are glossed over by busy people:

1. A single point of leadership

When leadership is splintered across multiple individuals and groups, it’s easy for things to fall apart. Decisions — even simple ones — take weeks, stalling project momentum. Conflicting leadership guidance creates confusion among team members. Milestones are missed. In contrast, a single leader clarifies accountability, creates consistency, and accelerates decisions, allowing the project to maintain momentum and engagement.

2. Leadership conviction

Transformation efforts are hard. They don’t produce rapid results and typically involve heated discussions. They often require long hours. Given the challenges, leadership must continually reinforce that the effort is a top priority through demonstrated conviction and visible support. In most cases, the leader must dedicate significant personal time and hard work to keeping the effort on track. Without a committed leader, tough projects routinely fall by the wayside.

3. Confirmed investment

Even if a cross-organizational transformation effort has a single, committed leader, it cannot deliver on objectives without significant and dedicated resources. While the need for adequate investment may seem obvious, we have seen numerous cases where leadership overlooks this need. Transformation efforts are inherently resource intensive; team members have to analyze business impacts, develop process revisions, revise job descriptions, and create trainings. As a result, these initiatives must be resourced to support the work effort required. Investments should be clearly sourced and assigned at the outset; otherwise the project team is forced to waste time continually asking for resources instead of completing project work. And if the team isn’t successful in securing resources? The effort dies on the vine.

4. Sufficient and dedicated staff

In the same vein, a transformation effort cannot succeed if it is a side job. If transformation responsibilities are added on top of existing workloads, people’s day-to-day commitments will take precedence. When forming the initiative team, leaders must recognize the time restrictions by helping team members establish priorities and shift preexisting workloads. Only then will the team have the capacity and support necessary to effectively deliver on the mandate.

5. A commitment to address operational issues

For many leaders, outcomes like tool functionality and enhancements aren’t all that exciting, but are incredibly important. Unless the operational environment  is set up to support the transformation, the effort falters. In other words, you're setting up a team for failure if you ask employees to change without making the necessary systems, tools, and operations adjustments to enable the change.

What factors have you found to be critical to success in change management efforts?

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Allison Strother

Allison is a leader in the Spur communications and operations practices. She has worked with a range of clients, including Microsoft, Cisco, Juniper Networks, Premera and Regence.